Frenchman George Le Mesnager

Frenchman George Le Mesnager settled in California in 1866, returning to France three times to defend his country; once during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and twice during World War I. He was recognized as the oldest soldier to serve throughout World War I. (Courtesy of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society) (December 14, 2012)

Frenchman George Le Mesnager, who once owned the land that is now Deukmejian Park, settled in this area in 1866 and returned to France three times to defend his native country.

He had barely arrived here and was working at various jobs, including as a court translator, when news of France’s war with Prussia reached here in 1870. He immediately left for France, enlisting as a private and serving as a color sergeant. After that war concluded, he returned here, according to Jo Anne Sadler, a member of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, who has researched Le Mesnager extensively.

When World War I began, he was well into his sixth decade. “He could not sit idly by and see his devoted country again ground under the heel of Prussian tyranny,’’ wrote the Glendale Evening News, May 17, 1919. “When in September 1914, a company of daring young Americans decided to go over and join the French Air Service, he went with them, and his previous war experience made him a valued aid to his sore-stricken people.”

Le Mesnager enlisted in the 106th Infantry, taking part in the French drive to retake three miles of territory from the Germans. He was wounded during this action and returned to the United States to recuperate. When his ship arrived in New York’s harbor in 1916, he was hailed as a war hero and interviewed by a correspondent from the New York Bureau of the Los Angeles Times. By then, Le Mesnager had received three medals for gallant service. “He is enthusiastic about the entire situation on the western front and believes the war will end before another winter is over,” the correspondent wrote on May 4, 1916.

Despite his age (he was credited at the time with being the oldest non-commissioned officer on the firing line) and his injuries, he returned to the front in 1917 with the rank of lieutenant. He was assigned to Gen. John Pershing’s office as a liaison to the French Army. “There he rendered remarkable service to General Pershing because of his unusual ability as a linguist,” according to The Times, Aug. 23, 1921.

After the war, he returned to his winery in northern Glendale and later received the Legion of Honor from the French Consul. “He will be the first resident of Southern California to receive the prized ‘red ribbon,’’ as the French call it,” said The Times, May 30, 1919.

That same year, he was honored at the July 14 celebration of the “Fall of the Bastille” by the local French colony. Two years later, he suffered a stroke and his wife returned from a trip to France to care for him. Another stroke the next year left him partially paralyzed. “It was then that his wife took him back to his beloved France, thinking that a change might prolong his life,” noted The Times, Sept. 11, 1923.

When he died in 1923 in the little village of his birth, several newspapers covered the death of the remarkable Le Mesnager, said to be the oldest soldier to serve throughout World War I.

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Readers Write:

Your story on Studebaker (Verdugo Views, January 11, 2012) brings back many memories. Our first new car was a 1952 Studebaker Champion, a four-door stick shift. My husband bought it at Packer Motors Company on Brand Boulevard. He bought it without me while I was in New Orleans with my sister who was having a baby. I had taken a train to New Orleans with our 3-year-old son. He drove it there with my mother and 5-year-old son. That was the first time I saw it.

We had child safety locks put on the back doors to protect our two active boys and our third (a daughter) on the way. I drove that little car all over Glendale for 10 years, in the meantime having our fourth child. I drove to the Little League fields at Brand Boulevard and Verdugo Park, often on the same day, since the boys were on separate teams. In the summer, I drove to Glendale High for swimming lessons. I could park that little car on a dime.

When we traded in the car in 1962, the salesman said he had never seen a back seat of a car worn out. I then told him that it was the second back seat that we had worn out. It was like losing a member of the family.

Thanks for the memories that your column stirs up.

Lola Archer